Victoria Adams. Sandra Styles. Dorothy Garner.
We now know so much more about them. More than we ever knew. More than some wanted us to know.
But what about the fourth member of that gathered gang who collectively watched from high above Elm Street as John Kennedy was murdered below? Here was yet one more witness ignored by the Warren Commission. Her name was first brought to our attention by way of Vicki’s testimony before staff counsel David Belin in April 1964:
Belin: Were you standing with anyone?
Miss Adams: Yes, sir.
Belin: With whom?
Miss Adams: I was standing with Sandra Styles, Elsie Dorman, and Dorothy May Garner.
Certainly she would have factored in with Belin’s stated goal of pinning down the timing of when Vicki Adams left the window for the back stairway. Yet just like potential corroborators Sandra and Dorothy, she was ignored. But Elsie had other secrets too.
So what do we know about Mrs. Dorman?
From scattered sources we learn that at 57, she was the oldest of the foursome. With 17 of those years spent at Scott Foresman, she was also the most experienced. Elsie grew up in Pembroke, Maine. She married John T. Dorman, an aircraft mechanic, in Boston in the 1920s. The couple later moved to Dallas.
Her name is rare in early assassination literature. Jim Bishop described her as one of the overly excited, “squealing” females on the fourth floor of the Depository awaiting the president’s appearance. Harold Weisberg called her a “privileged eyewitness” due to her vantage point, and lambasted the FBI and Commission for not recognizing her as such. Mark Lane and Sylvia Meagher didn’t mention her at all.
She is not always included in comprehensive roll calls of witnesses who were in Dealey Plaza. In fact, in the current register of nearly 1,000 “Key Persons” at the National Archives, you will not find her listed.
The record shows only three official interviews with her. Two are sketchy early reports made by the FBI. It’s the third one, conducted by the House Select Committee, that is the more interesting one.
The first took place in Elsie’s Dallas residence the day after the assassination. It lasted a mere three paragraphs. Back then, she admitted she had never seen Lee Oswald and had even “failed to recognize his photographs when shown on television.”
“Mrs. Dorman advised she was looking out the window on the fourth floor,” the agents wrote. “The window was raised and she was taking pictures.”
Taking pictures, you say? Remarkably, this tidbit raised no official interest.
Instead, the report concluded, “She stated she had seen no one whom she could associate with the shots during or after the shots were fired, and was unable to provide any addition information.”
Next, in a robotic exercise of FBI record keeping conducted in March 1964 with all Depository employees at work on that tragic day, Elsie mentioned that associates Dorothy Garner, Victoria Adams, and Sandra Styles were also with her during her picture taking.
“I was using my husband’s camera and was not too familiar with its operation,” she now elaborated. “As the motorcade turned on to Houston Street from Main Street, I started taking photographs. I was seated on the floor with the camera in the window. The window was raised. I continued taking photographs but as the motorcade turned from Houston Street on to Elm Street I became excited and did not get any more photographs.”
The record does not reflect any further interest by the FBI.
Actually, it was not photographs Elsie was talking from her elevated perch but rather what ended up being a 30-second video. And this would eventually become Elsie Dorman’s claim to future researchers’ fame. The film has the honor of being the only known imagery taken from overheard, let alone from the building that housed the alleged assassin. In comparison with other films of the shooting, it pales against Zapruder, Nix, Bronson, Muchmore…and much more. But it does have its moments: it shows the oncoming limousine, crowd scenes, witness positions, Howard Brennan not sitting where the Commission placed him…and several accompanying police motorcyclists.
It was the latter depiction that no doubt led to the third interview of record…in 1978.
On the afternoon of January 20, Elsie was interviewed in her home by a member of the House Select Committee. Although the three-page report does not indicate a specific intent for this late of an inquiry, the timing and the nature of the questions makes it obvious the Committee was interested in only one thing: a film that could possibly help identity the rider of a motorcycle with an open microphone thought to have recorded gunshots in Dealey Plaza.
“The lady appeared nervous,” we are told, “as she explained how she took the ‘pictures’ and why she doesn’t know where they are now.”
“As motorcade approached,” the interviewer writes in clipped third-person style, “she was joined by her supervisor, Dorothy Garner, and ‘two other girls’ as she started taking what she describes as ‘two or three pictures’ of the motorcade as it turned from Main onto Houston. Also took film on next turn (Houston onto Elm).
[Parenthetical material in quoted remarks appears in original.]
“When ‘trouble’ started, she discarded ‘picture taking’ and ran from her window…out the back door (still on the fourth floor) and looked out a window on the other side—the west end closer to the triple underpass. Unsuccessful in her attempt to enhance her perspective, she returned to her (office) window without further significant involvement.”
Now we know it was Elsie Dorman who joined at least one other woman, Ruth Nelson, as they scrambled moments after the shooting from their front-facing windows, out the rear office door, and across the fourth-floor landing to gaze out the west-facing windows onto the railroad yards. They were the ones Dorothy Garner saw emerge from the same office as she stood on the fourth-floor landing after watching Vicki and Sandra start down the stairway. The window women were also spotted by Bonnie Ray Williams as he descended the stairs from his previous perch on the fifth floor.
“She described,” the HSCA interview continues, “how she and all her cohorts were required to be fingerprinted as well as give name, address, work assignment, etc., before they were allowed to leave the building. Hazy as to the type of persons officiating, they were no doubt law enforcement people.
“Nor was she able to recall just when it was when the FBI and Secret Service responded to her home at separate times, but it was probably the same evening (11-22-63) and the following day.
“In any event, she gave – and signed – affidavits telling what she had experienced including ‘the pictures’. Asked if either the FBI took possession of the film or ‘pictures’ she advised that they never so much as saw the pictures. Actually it was quite some time before her husband had the film developed inasmuch as there was still an unused portion and he had waited until it was utilized.”
Mrs. Dorman conceded she never saw “the pictures” herself until after they were picked up by a representative of Life magazine. That publication used several frames in a 1967 article on the assassination. She felt the material given to Life had been returned intact by mail, adding that her husband “handled all such affairs” since “it was his camera.”
“She supported her claim by giving us a detailed account of the housebreaking in her home a short time ago while she was on vacation. No doubt she sustained a considerable loss – she displayed a very long, itemized list – but there’s no connection with the ‘missing pictures’.
“Ultimately her best guess was that son, James, probably knows where ‘the pictures’ are. She’ll check with him and we’ll return next week.”
If the HSCA did come back, there is no record of it. But the Dorman video ultimately would become an important element in the Committee’s investigation.
The film is now stored at the Sixth Floor Museum in Dallas.
Mrs. Dorman died in October 1983.